Posted by Rachel Bashford

What Standards Monitor Quality In Care Home Food?

Is there quality assurance of food served in care homes?

And can we ensure it’s nutritious?

Elderly Eating Food

This article will give you information on:

• The guidelines for care home food.
• The Choice Dining accreditation.
• The 6 Choice Dining categories: cuisine, hygiene, options, individuality, care and the environment.
• How Choice Dining supports care homes in evolving food standards.

What Care Home Food Guidelines Are There?

According to an ONS survey in 2021, there are approximately 17,600 care homes in the UK. Around 70 per cent of care homes are residential settings, while nursing homes make up 30 per cent of the total. The ONS also estimates that there are nearly half a million people in UK care homes.

In light of this, it’s important to know what kinds of food are being served to the care home populations and whether it’s nutritious enough to provide all the essential vitamins and minerals required for good health in older age.

There is recent guidance in place from the CQC (Care Quality Commission) that describes how individual needs are to be evaluated and that this should provide a foundation for food planning and preparation in care homes:

‘People must have their nutritional needs assessed and food must be provided to meet those needs. This includes where people are prescribed nutritional supplements and/or parenteral nutrition. People's preferences, religious and cultural backgrounds must be taken into account when providing food and drink.’

However, the CQC does not go into much detail about the types of nutrition necessary to benefit the physical and mental health of the over 65s. To shed a little more light on the facts, Public Health England produced Healthier And More Sustainable Catering in 2017 as a toolkit to help support care homes in the creation of healthy food for residents.

This report states that data from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey tells us that, on average, older people aged over 74 years in residential care consume too much saturated fat, salt and sugars whilst eating too little fibre, fruit, vegetables and oily fish.

Public Health England promotes the use of the Eatwell Guide as a visual reminder for care home kitchens and managers so they can create balanced, vibrant and tasty dishes for their residents.

Eatwell Guide

In this quick video from Autumna, chef Brian Lane tells Debbie Harris, founder of Autumna, why food in care homes deserves the same care and respect as restaurant cuisine.

With around 1 in 4 people entering care homes at risk of malnutrition, as reported by BAPEN, the Malnutrition Taskforce has completed a study into the nutritional standards for UK seniors.

The Malnutrition Taskforce has devised some support criteria for care facilities as to how they measure the quality of nutrients they are providing for residents. For example, the current recommendation is between 20-30g of protein per meal for those at risk of malnutrition and to protect against muscle mass degradation.

Food info
Source: Malnutrition

Although this support is available for care homes, it doesn’t necessarily ensure consistency across the sector or help create a more coherent system to assist care homes in delivering the right quality of food for older people.

The Choice Dining Accreditation

Many care homes are looking for clear structures and key indicators to help them supply interesting, delicious and nutritious meals for their over 65s, but some are unsure as to where they can best find the information they need to achieve this level of food management.

With this in mind, Autumna has developed the Choice Dining accreditation to enable care homes to showcase their all-important dining experience, and at the same time deliver first-class dishes so their residents fully enjoy their food.

Choice Dining, a consumer facing accreditation, offers ratings on cuisine, hygiene, options, individuality, care and the environment, allowing individuals to research and discover more about the selection of food available to them.

Autumna’s founder Debbie Harris said: ‘The dining experience is a critical component of any care service and our Choice Dining rating offers people even more assurance when deciding on the right type of care provision.’

Choice Dining is the first food-focused accreditation for the care sector. It has been specifically designed so that care-seekers can easily consider and compare the dining experience within different care settings.

If you’re beginning to research particular care options, you can now explore all about the food on offer and how it delivers on individual tastes and presentation levels. In the image below, you can see that your search can be customised with information regarding how your care home choices are meeting the Choice Dining criteria.

Autuman Profile with Choice Dining Badge

The 6 different categories within the Choice Dining accreditation work together to build a helpful information picture of what each care home can offer its residents in terms of food selections.

But, what is each category and why is it important?


This category assesses how a residence prepares and presents food, plus it considers the nutritional value of what is on offer. It may sound unrelated at first, but presenting dishes in an attractive way and making sure the preparation is fresh will all help to entice seniors to eat healthily balanced meals.

In this Age UK video, older people are encouraged to take part in cooking sessions to engage their interest and liven up their tastebuds so that they look forward to and enjoy what they eat.

In fact, the nutritional value of what seniors eat couldn’t be more vital to their longevity as it can help support a healthier old age. Providing a rainbow of colours, paired with vibrant tastes and compatible textures in everyday food can connect people to the food they’re eating and allow them to take the time for food enjoyment.


The Choice Dining hygiene category reassures residents, families and potential residents that the food on offer has been subject to appropriate and rigorous standards of hygiene. Hand hygiene for both seniors and kitchen staff is an essential component. Plus, food safety preparation and storage criteria have to be consistently upheld.

This clip from Hygiene Food Safety shows how high standards of food safety and hygiene can be maintained for clean culinary processes and healthy food management.


Being able to eat the food you want, when you want is a significant component in feeling free and empowered. Older people need this sense of freedom and choice so that they know if they fancy a little of something sweet or a bit of fruit or just a plain scone, then this level of independence should be made available to them.

With the Choice Dining accreditation, the way that carers explore an individual’s food preferences and tries to ensure those food types are present is key.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that healthy guidelines for preparing food are ignored; rather, these elements all work together to support the good health of older people. Here is a video from Sing Health, describing sensible diet options for seniors.


Carers and care homes should understand the wants and requirements of every individual, be it cultural, religious or dietary. This means that there may be initial conversations when a prospective resident is about to move in so that there is a clear understanding of every detail of the senior’s preferences.

It's important that carers also review these choices at certain times so that changes can be taken into account and dietary plans or menus can be adapted. It’s sometimes a sensible idea that people and their families look at the food options, the rooms that food is served in and the atmosphere of mealtimes so they are happy and comfortable with routines.

This video from Autumna reveals how older people feel about their mealtimes and how vital they are to feeling safe, secure and at home in their new environment.


Delivering a respectful and quality service should be at the heart of mealtime preparation in care homes. Residents will probably want to know that their feelings are heard, appreciated and acted upon so they feel at home. Many seniors can feel tired at different points of the day and may not feel up to sitting with others; so, it’s essential that carers listen to how people feel on a daily basis and their responses are flexible.


These days, every business has to consider how environmentally conscious and socially responsible their service is. Care homes are no different and whilst the care of older people comes first, assessing the impact of what food is used, where it comes from and how waste is consumed or recycled are all integral aspects to the quality delivery of food in homes.

This clip from the Soil Association illustrates how food producers, care homes and other relevant stakeholders can work together to produce healthy, environmentally sound food for older people.

Choice Dining Supports Care Homes To Provide Good Food

To be awarded the Choice Dining badge, care homes must have an enhanced listing on Autumna, and be committed to delivering an exceptional dining experience. This gives older people looking at prospective care facilities – and their loved ones – certainty and reassurance that the food they will receive will be of a high quality and enjoyable.

For more details, and to see which providers have already achieved the accreditation, click here.

What Is The Best Way To Research Information About Care And Support In Retirement?

Growing numbers of people are turning to Autumna for support and information when they want to find out more about their care home, home care and assisted living options.

Starting an internet search without really knowing what to look for can be tricky but, as users quickly discover, the simple search tools on Autumna help people to rapidly find what they are looking for.

Let Autumna help you. Why not complete this short form to let us know exactly what type of care is important to you? We’ll then use our database of over 26,000 care providers to filter your search and send you a shortlist of those that can help.

Alternatively email us here: or call our Advice Line on 01892 335 330. Our phone line is open seven days a week. (8:30am - 5:30pm Mon-Fri, 10am - 5pm Sat, 10am - 4pm Sun).

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